The Words No Parent Wants to Hear
By Tim Geiger
“I think I’m gay.” Ed’s and Marie’s hearts stopped for an instant and everything around them seemed to stand still. It was like the shock of hearing that someone close to you has suddenly died. Now, as they hear these unexpected words from their oldest son, Mark, 20-years-old and home from college on spring break, Ed and Marie wonder if this is also a death of a kind—death of their hopes and dreams for Mark, the death of their desires for a “normal” life of their own.
After the initial shock, all sorts of questions flooded their minds. Was this something they were responsible for? What will this mean for their two younger children? Will they be gay, too? Will Mark ever change? How will they deal with Mark’s “friend” (though there was no “friend” at this point) if he wanted to spend the holidays with them? What would the other members of their church say? Worse yet—what would they think—about Mark and about them, as parents? They wanted to ask their son questions. They wanted to tell him they loved him. Yet all they felt they could do was try to process the information they already had,—“I think I’m gay.”
So what do you do when you hear those words…or find gay pornography on your child’s computer or phone? How would you respond if you were the parents? How would you help a friend or someone in your church respond if they were in this situation? There are no easy answers, but there are a few strategies to keep in mind that may help you, your child, or the friends you are trying to help, through the difficult initial days or weeks of hearing this news and trying to understand it.
You don’t need to know all the answers.
Don’t feel as though you need to have all the answers, or even know all the questions to ask, right at the beginning. It’s okay to tell your child after his or her initial disclosure, “This is a lot to think about and take in. I need some time to think over what you’ve said. I’d like to sit down with you to talk about this in more depth later—after I’ve had some time to calm down and reflect.”
Prayerfully consider what questions you might ask. Ask your spouse, a trusted friend or pastor, to help you think through some questions to ask, and write them down. Your child was in charge of the initial disclosure, and he has probably been thinking about what he would say on this day for many weeks, months or even years. So, you don’t have to quickly respond. Don’t be rushed. Go at your own speed.
Affirm your love for your child.
No matter what ultimately happens, no matter what you son or daughter says, feels or does, he or she is still your child. Express your love for her. Promise her that there’s nothing that would ever cause you to withhold that love. This may be difficult to do, but the most important way that parents can minister to their child who has adopted a gay identity is to keep the lines of relationship open. Your child’s behavior is not rebellion against you, although, if there is anger in her declaration, you will most likely be the prime recipient of that anger. Keep in mind that ultimately your child is rebelling against God. Therefore, maintaining love and contact with your child is the best way to witness to the Lord’s unfailing and faithful love in her life.
Ask your child what does he mean by saying he is gay.
Don’t take for granted that your child’s understanding of the terms he uses to describe himself is the same as yours. Ask your child how he came to this conclusion, how long he has been thinking about it, and how certain he feels it is true.
You may find that your child isn’t so much making a statement about his identity as it is his assessment of a situation in which he perceives himself as helpless. “I’ve been struggling with these feelings for years—and the only reasonable conclusion I can draw is that I must be gay.” Saying you’re gay and saying you’ve been wrestling with feelings you don’t understand and don’t want are two completely different things. This is an important point to clarify with him.
You don’t need to know details about your child’s sexual activity.
If your son or daughter is over 18, this information is often not helpful for a parent to know, and may serve only to separate parent (who may experience additional shock) from child (who may experience guilt and shame over revealing such personal details to her parent[s]). It is okay to ask general questions, “Are you in a relationship? With whom? Who else knows?”
If your child is under 18, then it is important to ascertain some level of detail about his or her behavior. “Is what you feel limited to fantasy and masturbation? Is pornography involved? Have you had sexual contact with anyone?” Keep in mind that asking these kinds of questions can be difficult for you, as a parent, to ask and for your child to hear. Here it may be wise to enlist the services of a good Christian counselor, one who can help you learn how to talk to your child on these sensitive matters, and who might better relate to your child.
Also in the case of a minor, it is important to assess the situation and determine if laws have been broken, and if your child is at risk from a predator, either in person or online. It is also essential to determine if sexual abuse has occurred and if so, to report this to law enforcement as quickly as possible. Talk to a counselor or pastor who is familiar with your state’s laws about child sexual abuse to determine how to proceed.
Ask your child if he is content to be gay, or if he wants to change.
Some children will quickly state they’re happy—and if your child does, you likely won’t be able to convince him otherwise. Others, though, may report years of angst, guilt and shame over their feelings and behavior and will express either some desire to change or wonder if that is even possible. If so, enter into that struggle by sensitively talking to him, Again, it may be helpful to have your child talk with a Christian counselor who both affirms what Scripture says about godly sexuality and one who can relate well to youth.
You can’t change your child.
You are not the one who is going to change your child. No matter how badly you might want to see change in your son’s or daughter’s life, no matter how much you pray, no matter how convincing your argument, you won’t be able to convince your child to change. Your child’s complaint ultimately isn’t with you; it’s with God.
Only a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ will lead to the heart change that is needed before behavioral change will ever occur. God wants to do business with your child’s heart—she has adopted or is struggling with a gay identity because, at some level, she has believed lies about God, herself, and others (Romans 1:21-25). She has come to believe what the world believes about life, sexuality, purpose, God, etc., instead of viewing life through the lens of Scripture.
On the other hand, what you can be is an agent of change in your child’s life, because it is the Lord who will do the changing (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Such change is likely to come about within the context of community—through your relationship with your son or daughter, or through his or her relationship with another mature, compassionate Christian.
Your child doesn’t need to become straight
What your child needs is what God calls everyone to, and that is a life of faith and repentance in Christ. Having heterosexual sex will not solve your child’s problem. There is more to this issue than sexuality. The ethical opposite of homosexuality is not being straight — it is believing the truth about God (2 Corinthians 10:4-6) and living a lifestyle of faith and repentance–a life that is increasingly oriented toward the worship of God and is marked by a transforming relationship with his Son, Jesus. Godly sexuality is about holiness; it is about living life by God’s power within his good design.Your child’s struggle with homosexuality is something the Lord means for your good.
What a strange statement! Yet, if we believe that God is sovereign and at work in each of his children in every circumstance (Philippians 2:12,13), then God intends this present suffering as a means to grow you in faith and dependence in him.
You can’t do anything to control your child’s struggle or repentance. You can, however, respond to what the Lord is calling you to do in terms of faith, obedience and repentance in your own life as you struggle with these issues in your own family. Will you rest solely in God’s love and sovereignty, or will you resort to try and resolve these issues on your own, in a spirit of self-sufficiency?
Bring others in.
No matter how strong your faith, you can’t deal with this on your own. Seek out trusted and spiritually mature friends, family members, church members and pastors to help you both interpret the events in your family from a biblical perspective and to help you respond in a holy and God-glorifying way to your child’s decisions. God often ministers to His people through the context of Christian community. Don’t let your fears get in the way of faith.
If you think there is no one who can handle these issues, then pray. These trusted people are out there! Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see someone with whom you might speak. The Lord can raise up someone to walk with you, and frequently does, in response to prayer—though they may not be the people you expect.
You can also contact Harvest USA to ask about the Shattered Dreams/New Hope Parents Intensive Seminar, designed to help parents exactly in your situation by helping you to understand your situation in the context of God’s Word and in community with God’s people.
What about setting boundaries in my relationship with my child?
It may be appropriate to set some boundaries in your relationship with your child if she persists in her behaviors. Those boundaries will be unique for each family and will often change as needs and circumstances dictate. A ground rule for boundaries, however, is that they should exist to protect your family and to protect your child. Boundaries should never be punitive or manipulative. To do so fails to reflect the faithful love of God through Jesus Christ, which should be the overarching principle of relationship with your child. Jesus uncompromisingly spoke the truth in love. We, as His disciples, can do nothing else.
How can I help my child?
Pray. Pray for wisdom, pray for faith, pray for strength to reflect the love of God through Jesus Christ to your child. Keep the lines of communication open with your child. Make sure your child knows that he can always come to you. At the same time, give him space to make his own decisions. Respect those decisions, but don’t necessarily agree with or condone them. Let your child realize the natural consequences of his behavior. If your child makes decisions to pursue self-destructive or otherwise sinful behavior, communicate the sinfulness of that decision and your disappointment—but never withhold your love.
The Lord has sovereignly placed you in this situation, with a son or daughter who is struggling with unbelief and sin in particularly hurtful ways. Rest assured that He is at work in all things—especially the hard ones—for the good of those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). He hasn’t forgotten you. To the contrary, He is the only One capable of helping you to grow in faith and hope in the midst of a dark and difficult time. Believe that He can!